Saturday, July 14, 2007

Let's Play the Race Card!

Part IV of the New York Adventure should be up on Monday. Meanwhile, can I be serious for a moment…?

I'm Black and I'm a rabid baseball fan.

Those terms are mutually exclusive for most of America.

Gary Sheffield is Black and he's a baseball player.

Those terms, too, are mutually exclusive for most of America.

Doc Gooden's nephew has done it again. In an interview set to air next week with HBO's Real Sports, Sheffield makes the following claim:

"Black players are treated differently than white players, particularly at Yankee Stadium. Black players had an issue with Joe Torre. They weren't treated like everybody else. Even I got called out in a couple of meetings that I thought was unfair."

Not surprisingly, the reaction from the mostly white sports media has ranged from dismissive to offended.

I heard an example of the former on my way home from dinner last night. An ESPN Radio talking head called Sheffield a few derogatory, but FCC-friendly names and ended with the expected "Who cares what this idiot thinks?" The "offended" segment is led by Buster Olney, also from the World Wide Leader:

"Sheffield's words about Torre are sharp and vicious, whether (Sheffield) meant them to be or not. It feels like he is slinging around words recklessly -- hurtful words which, when coming from a star player like Sheffield, can label someone for life."

Let's look at Sheffield's words, again.

He's essentially saying that Joe Torre treats Black players differently than white players. Now, I consider myself something of an intelligent individual, but I fail to see the "recklessness" in Sheffield's words or how they could possibly be interpreted as "hurtful".

Once again, Sheffield isn't calling Torre a racist (in fact, in the interview, he flat out says "no" when asked that question). He's saying that his boss treats whites and Blacks differently.

Is this really that difficult of a concept for white people to grasp?

In the American workplace, men are sometimes treated differently than women, the old and experienced are sometimes treated differently than the new college hires and Blacks are sometimes treated differently than whites.

By themselves, these aren't examples of sexism, ageism or racism. But, they are the way things have been and will always be, to varying degrees.

Getting back to Buster for a minute…if there's anything the media is good for, it's falling all over themselves to find a contrarian Black example who refutes the "hurtful" claim of the first Black guy. Buster says:

"Sheffield has his perspective. So does Darryl Strawberry, an African-American who wept on the steps of City Hall after the Yankees won the World Series in 1999 and thanked Torre, in particular, for being there for him."

Just precious, isn't it? Now, for any non-sports fans reading this, if Darryl Freakin' Strawberry is ever part of anyone's rebuttal, the first guy has already won the argument. Strawberry snorted away a potential Hall of Fame career before ending up with the one team (the Yankees) that was deep enough to stash him at the end of their bench for his final five seasons.

And, in hindsight, how much did Torre really help Strawberry, who arguably has had just as much turmoil in the aftermath of his Yankees run as he did during his entire baseball career?

More from Buster:

"Derek Jeter, who -- regardless of how Sheffield defines race -- has an African-American father and a white mother, and has always had the highest regard for Torre. (It must come as a great surprise to the esteemed Charles Jeter, by the way, to hear from Sheffield that his son is not African-American. Derek Jeter "just ain't all the way black," Sheffield said.)"

One of my earliest memories of Jeter was an interview he did for USA Today's old "Baseball Weekly" (now "Sports Weekly") newsmagazine. It was in the mid-90s and, if I remember correctly, Jeter had just been called up to the Yankees. It was the usual puff piece on what a good kid he was…humble, grateful, etc.

There was a line in there about the type of music he listens to. I don't remember the exact quote, but he cited a rap group (Heavy D & The Boys, but don't quote me on that) and his reason being that they don't cuss. The reporter ended with this factoid and signed off with words to the effect of "just one more reason to like him".

Derek Jeter, like Tiger Woods almost immediately after him, has curried favor with the media as much through his tacit manipulation of the press as for his extraordinary on-field exploits. Both men go out of their way to downplay their race, which pleases the white fans and media who've long since tired of the Black athlete who actually acknowledges his race and the challenges that come with it.

In simple terms, Derek Jeter is "Black" when it suits him or a media agenda. It's the only time you'll ever see his race mentioned in a newspaper or on Sportscenter.

But, sometimes the world simply isn't "black" or "white". Olney takes a swipe at Sheffield's "just ain't all the way Black" comment, but the fact is…Jeter isn't. He's bi-racial or mulatto or whatever the hell they're called today. My mother is bi-racial and my father is Black, which makes me…uh…well, very confused at Kwanzaa.

Black people are often accused of "playing the race card" too freely over every little thing. And, if you believe that, then doesn't the converse hold true, as well? That is to say, why is every discussion or mention or debate on race almost immediately dismissed by most of America?

Yes, race plays some part in fan's perceptions of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Terrell Owens, Mark McGwire or any number of "controversial" athletes from any sport.

It's perfectly normal, America and it doesn't make any of you racists.

Now, let's all ponder the apocalypse in a world where Gary Sheffield is leading the way.


Mathan said...

Great read.

Um, I don't really have anything sarcastic or mildly funny to say. I just enjoyed your piece.

Oh, wait. I enjoyed your piece and I can't remember the last time that happened.

Still got it.

Alex said...

I have a hard time understanding how you can possibly defend a guy like Sheffield who's been a cancer in every clubhouse he's ever been in. He plays "the victim" whenever he's the one pushing an agenda and is so transparent that I'm stunned anyone still shoves a microphone in his face.

I think you make some good points here and there, Cam, but by and large I violently disagree with this one.

Anonymous said...

The thing that irks me about all of this is how the media is quick to bash an outspoken athlete like Sheffield under the guise that's "everything's alllllllll right".

After all, how can there possibly be racism in a world where minorities can now eat at the Woolworth's diner counter and make $100M large playing a kid's game?

Tom said...

The reason that people are attacking Sheffield partially falls under the Bonds' rule. Gary Sheffield is an famous mal-content who has a problem everywhere he goes, who's admitted to committing errors on purpose, and he's had a chip on his shoulder about Torre since last year's playoffs. And of all people to find confirmation, they go to 11-teams-in-16-years player Kenny Lofton. Then, to try and make a further point, they go to Joe Morgan... who would never ever say something bad about a black player (and there's nothing wrong with that... he's from an era when they still hadn't had a black manager in the game yet) who gives a standard Joe answer of "I'm not in the clubhouse so I can't say". Couldn't it just be, with those specific two guys, that Torre just treats assholes differently? It also makes it really tough when Sheff doesn't expand on what he got "called out" about.

The other problem is that it's nearly impossible for Torre to defend himself. Torre didn't want Sheffield on that team, he wanted Vlad. Everyone in the organization, except Steinbrenner, wanted Vlad. All Torre can really do is what he's doing: ignoring it and let it go away.

Greg said...

Sheff can say whatever he wants in my book. He's always interesting, he's been around long enough to have a valid opinion he and doesn't seem to say stuff just to kick up dirt. He's just speaking his mind without censoring himself. If a guy has established that as his style, the reaction to what he says is always going to be 100 times more telling than the original statement. In the name of being "objective" people will contort all kinds of "facts." Why don't they just say "I don't believe him" or something? He was being dispassionately subjective. If you can't manage the same, you might have an issue yourself. Maybe he was wrong, but you know who's going to prove that? Other people that stood in his shoes. Did I miss the outcry from former or current Yankees? (And I'm a Yankees fan.)

That Bootleg Guy said...

ALEX: Respectfully, your sentiments are absurd. Sheffield's a cancer in every clubhouse? He's been to the playoffs five straight years and his a WS ring.

TOM: You make some great points. Particularly about Joe Morgan, who famously was referenced in the late NL umpire Eric Gregg's autobiography as a player who'd look for calls under the guise of "helping out a brutha".

Sheffield's an easy, convenient villian, I agree, but sometimes even bad guys tell the truth.

GREG: Agreed. It's the media that's turned Sheffield's words into accusations of racism. This is not a story, but damn it, Sportscenter will sure try and make it one!